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Some HD580 Impressions

post #1 of 20
Thread Starter 
Discovering headphones has been a revelation for me. I love my home system but haven’t had the spare cash to put into it that it deserves. Not to mention that in an apartment I feel very self-conscious of listening to music later in the evening, which is when I have the time to sit down and relax so I rarely ever “listen” to my home system other than background music. Headphones have filled a void and given me the intimate experience I had always been searching for. I discovered this at work when I bought a cheap pair of Radio Shack headphones to block out the crap my co-workers were listening to. I was reminded of a great experience I had listening to a friends NVA AP10H/HD600 combo a few years back and realized that here was a way for me to have my music the way I wanted at a cost that was much more reasonable.

I found Head-Fi in my search for a decent closed phone for work. It didn’t take long before I decided that a good headphone for home was in order as well. After reading a lot of information the Sennheiser HD580 sounded like a perfect fit. I have a background working in a high-end audio store and for a speaker manufacturer and I have to admit that I love tubes. I’ve heard many different systems and always seem to come back to that sound. So when I read descriptions of the 580’s I thought they sounded like a perfect fit.

In fact they have proven to be a bit of an enigma for me. On some levels I loved them and on others I was sorely disappointed. Seeing as I’m a relative newbie here I thought detailing some of my experiences would be relevant to others in a similar situation. I have been criticized for voicing my opinion on the 580’s because my source and amp are not of the highest caliber but I feel others in similar situations to mine may benefit from some of my experiences. As always these thoughts are mine alone, and I highly recommend that they not be taken too seriously. Experience things for yourselves if at all possible.

These impressions were gained over time in various systems including straight out of a Soundblaster Live!, straight out of two budget PCDPs, the D25S and a Sony DE-J621 as well as a Cmoy connected with Straight Wire to the D25S and Michael Thompson Rope interconnects to a Panasonic RV-31 DVD/CD player. I wanted to give impressions in each configuration but felt it would be redundant to repeat many things over and over so I’ve given my overall impressions first as they generally were the same in each configuration.

The Good,

This is a pleasant headphone to listen to. For the most part the infamous mid bass hump adds a bit more body and weight to recordings. They are detailed, revealing and simply put, quite amazing on some recordings. Sarah Mclachlan’s Freedom Sessions and Nathan Wiley’s Bottom Dollar floored me. Both Sarah and Nathan’s voices were absolutely stunning. The articulation and subtle nuances came through with amazing clarity. All the little details of the recordings were there in their proper perspective. The soundstage was the biggest by far that I have ever heard from a headphone. Harmony parts were well defined and separate voices were articulate and easily distinguished. Most Instruments had nice body and weight with timbres that had a rightness to them that I really enjoyed.

The Bad,

They only worked really well for me on a few recordings. Put in Fiona Apple or Tool and the illusion was shattered. Not unlistenable by any means but quite boring nonetheless. A few characteristics that I personally didn’t like seemed to follow the 580’s in whatever configuration I tried. There was a slight recession in the midrange, while not severe, when mixed with the slight mid bass hump voices occasionally got lost in the mix. They also had what I call a distant perspective. It’s like your watching the music from a distance and not experiencing it, they didn’t have that “you are there” quality that is more to my liking. I would describe it as sitting mid hall as opposed to front row center. I guess this is what some people might call veiled but I think the veil is only part of it. The slight recession in the midrange may have something to do with it as well. I also found them quite polite and laid back which seemed to slow the pace and some recordings just lost their intensity all together.

The History (In chronological order)

I was amazed that I got decent volume straight out of my soundcard at work. I didn’t do any critical listening here but would characterize my impressions as smooth and laid back. There was no real wow factor but they did sound good.

I don’t recommend using the 580’s straight out of the average portable the Sony DE-J621 was really working to get just an average volume without distortion. The bass was quite muddy and thick. The mid bass hump was quite apparent and overbearing on most material. Upon reflection I feel the 621 has an exaggerated bass that accentuated the 580’s hump. Highs seemed rolled off but they didn’t have a bad quality to them.

The D25S had no problem driving the 580’s. On it’s own it sounded a bit thin through the midrange, the highs were a tad forward but had a nice quality to them. The bass lacked the ultimate extension and was on the light side except the mid bass hump was still quite apparent throwing the balance off. Transients again had a soft edge. While the soundstage was nice it had a strange quality to it that I can’t quite describe, it’s like things didn’t quite fit together right. Overall this combination was, for the most part quite, listenable but did have a tendency to sound thin and bright with too much emphasis on the mid bass.

The D25S and Cmoy combination brought things up a notch pretty much across the board. The soundstage improved. Bass went deeper and tighter but still lacked the very bottom end. Transients had more of a snap but were still on the soft side. Highs took on an even nicer quality but were still exaggerated by times. This combination was a pretty big improvement over the straight D25S, it added a more solid foundation, with better balance, focus and clarity but still erred to a slight thin, bright quality.

In an attempt to determine if I wanted to keep the 580’s I moved the Cmoy over to the main system and hooked it up to the Panasonic RV-31. In this configuration the 580’s really improved. One of the most noticeable was better drive and pace. Transients didn’t seem quite so rounded. Overall the sound really fleshed out. There was a more solid foundation but generally the mid bass hump still seemed to add a bit too much to the mix. The soundstage improved even more seeming wider and deeper but again things didn’t quite gel into a coherent musical picture. Maybe this has something to do with the perspective thing but I’m not really sure. It was just one of those things I couldn’t quite put my finger on. The midrange was still slightly recessed but because it was sweeter it was less obvious. Overall this was a much better presentation that left me with a real dilemma.

To Sum Up,

What does all this mean you ask? Well I can safely say that the 580’s are one heck of a headphone. Overall they were always listenable and showed a sheer brilliance with some recordings. Most of the problems I encountered improved with each upgrade so it would be safe to assume that the same would apply with even further upgrades. I would also conclude that most of those problems were source and amp shortcomings as opposed to shortcomings of the headphones.

Are they a good buy? My opinion is yes and no. I feel the 580’s have the potential to offer something special given the proper care in system matching. This means a high end amp and source and most likely a cable upgrade as well. So while the 580’s are quite possibly the best headphone you can buy in the under $200 price range, to really hear what they are capable of you will need to spend a lot more on the rest of the system. This also means that if you don’t plan to match them with an above average source and amp there are other headphones in the price range that may prove to be a better choice.

While there were a lot of things I liked and respected about the 580’s in the end I had to sell them. Based on my own experience and some similar opinions of people here, I wasn’t convinced that their polite, laid back character and distant perspective could be totally changed with system upgrades. It is possible that I’m wrong but I really didn’t have the patience or money to spend looking for the right combination to get a headphone, which I wasn’t really listening to very much, to sound the way I wanted. I would much prefer to have something I’m fairly happy with out of the box, listen to regularly and am confidant will only improve when I decide to upgrade.
post #2 of 20
Great impressions of the HD 580, elnero.

On the other hand, you'll have a VERY tough time choosing a replacement headphone that meets your needs. Most of the headphones that will work well directly from your setup will be already at their full potential with your current setup - and then will show little or no improvement whatsoever, or even sound worse, with higher-end equipment. Which means that auditioning headphones at home, with your own setup, and then auditioning the same headphones on another, higher-end setup, is critical to your success.
post #3 of 20
Very articulate article, Elnero. (You forgot the period on/in one sentence You missed a couple of commas, also. ).

The senn veil is real to me. I can actually see it when listening to music.

And I concur with you regarding upgrading to get the best out of them. For the money spent upgrading, people could have bought Sony CD-MDR3000's, AKG K1000's & a sub, Grado RS2's, et. al. Yes, the case could be made for an amp in all those cases, but I've heard the K1000's from an old Harmon Kardon, and it was acceptable to me.

I also subscribe to testing headphones on "Joe average" audio equipment. To say that "IF you spend $500 for another amp..." is unacceptable to the uninformed & ignorant masses. Most people have $200 - $300 receivers in their homes, and all headphones should be tested on that type of equipment. "Oh, it won't sound good on this receiver? Then I will buy a set of headphones which will sound good on this receiver!" So they'll end up with V6's, SR80's, et. al.

As the meta42 is now the defacto standard, the question from here on in should be, "what headphones sound best with the meta42?" and then buy a set of headphones accordingly.

As to music style, the questions will shift to "Does the meta42ppl do Techo well?, Classical well?, Jazz well?, Bluegrass well?, etc.

I'll be getting my K1000's this week. I am not contemplating upgrading the cable (about $200). I can use that $200 for a better amp; TYVM (if and when I feel it's necessary).

So, who's got a Sony MDR-F1 for me to audition?
post #4 of 20
Elnero,

I think you hit the nail right on the head with your review. The 580s are very pleasant headphones. They don't offend with modest equipment. However, their strength is the vast improvement and life that's breathed into them when matched with other quality components.

Pair these with a good source such as a Musical Fidelity, Arcam, Rega Planet 2000 or another quality CD player, Cary 300 SEI Integrated amp and an Equinox cable and you'll have the stuff wet dreams are made of for about $5-$6k. You'd have to spend in the tens of thousands to get that kind of a sound from a regular, speaker based system.
post #5 of 20
All this only shows that the HD 590s may well be a proper alternative to the 580s as they're easier to drive (lower impedance). Powering them up to their full potential may be less expensive with very similar results.
Cheers,
Alex Altorfer
post #6 of 20
Thread Starter 
Eagle_Driver,

I liken the 580's to Martin Logan's (not in sound mind you, just in my feelings towards them) A friend owns a pair of Logans and while I like and respect them I don't think I could live with them. There are plenty of other options out there albiet fewer in the world of headphones but still quite a few alternatives that will hopefully sound respectable in my current setup and get better when I make further upgrades.

Wallijonn,

Quote:
I also subscribe to testing headphones on "Joe average" audio equipment. To say that "IF you spend $500 for another amp..." is unacceptable to the uninformed & ignorant masses. Most people have $200 - $300 receivers in their homes, and all headphones should be tested on that type of equipment. "Oh, it won't sound good on this receiver? Then I will buy a set of headphones which will sound good on this receiver!" So they'll end up with V6's, SR80's, et. al.
I'm not quite sure I get your analogy here???

bifcake,

Ahhhhhh, to have a Cary 300 SEI. Life would be sweet. My home system would sound amazing as it was one of the amps we tested with when designing the Swans that I own. I do wish I had discovered my passion for headphones when I had regular access to it so I could have had that experience as well.

Alex,

You could quite possibly be right but without hearing the 590's I'd not like to speculate. There seems to be too many conflicting reports on their sound to make an accurate prediction.
post #7 of 20
Elnero,

"...haven’t had the spare cash to put into it that it deserves."

"I have been criticized for voicing my opinion on the 580’s because my source and amp are not of the highest caliber but I feel others in similar situations..."

"These impressions were gained over time in various systems including straight out of a Soundblaster Live!, straight out of two budget PCDPs, the D25S and a Sony DE-J621 ..."

"Most of the problems I encountered improved with each upgrade so it would be safe to assume that the same would apply with even further upgrades. I would also conclude that most of those problems were source and amp shortcomings as opposed to shortcomings of the headphones."

" to really hear what they are capable of you will need to spend a lot more on the rest of the system."

Now compare your findings to: http://www4.head-fi.org/forums/showt...threadid=20954

In my case I'll be driving my K1000's from a $100 Crown D60 amp.

What I am saying is that while we all want to know what equipment was used to test a piece of equipment, many of us, in fact, can not afford that selfsame equipment. Therefore baseline testing on "average" equipment serves as an indicator of the headphone's 'quality'. Instead of paying $400 to get a sweet sounding headpone (cans, cables and amp), I would much rather get a great sounding can (like A100Ti, CD3000, SR325, etc.) that I don't have to spend money on an endless amount of upgrading and can enjoy right out of the box.

Ultimately it's the 'buy low impedence to enjoy now' and 'buy high impedence to enjoy later' syndrome. Too many times noobs / newbies get caught in the euphoria of senn hd580/600 - and the same echoes seem to appear - "they'll sound better with corda / equinox / et. al. cables". (I can hear the Devil lying to me...)

Senns are definitely upper stratasphere headphones. And those that wish to fly as high as the eagles must be willing to pay the price. But even the eagles must come down to earth to eat.

I enjoy reading reviews from people who have moderate equipment. I would rather tell it like it is, rather than what it can be like. Anyone who has read my ongoing Grado mod thread knows that I am not a Grado lover. And my ATH AD10 mod thread should prove that I am not in love with ATH, either. I can find fault with AKG K1000's and 501's. Maybe I should have bought DT831's in the first place... But who knew? I fear that many who bought senn 580's may end up in the same boat.

peace.
post #8 of 20
Thread Starter 
Thanx for the clarification Wallijonn, that's what I thought you meant but I just wanted to be sure. It was actually this line that confused me
Quote:
As the meta42 is now the defacto standard, the question from here on in should be, "what headphones sound best with the meta42?" and then buy a set of headphones accordingly.
but it didn't copy into my post.
post #9 of 20
This thread sums it all up for me...

I had a modest CD player to begin with, with a crappy (QED-MB45) amp... which really let the HD580s down, I had the new toy buzz, but that soon faded... <snip 15 months of my headphone history from here>... it took a CD player upgrade, swiftly followed by a cable upgrade to bring out the sound...

Of course you're all right ~ there is no real justification for spending... erm, in my case nearly $1200 just to get a $200 pair of headphones to sound their best... its just wrong...

BUT, when you do (although if markl reads this he may well disagree) step up the system, the veil is gone... there is nothing in the way of the sound anymore... The senns now make all of my other headphones sound subdued and honky

So Alex Altorfer, you are probably correct, that the HD590s ARE a better buy in the short to mid term, as they are more system friendly.. but would they hold up when you cranked up the quality of your system? - that, I don't know....
post #10 of 20
The 590s are a good set of cans. However, when comparing them to the 580s using top notch equipment, they don't sound as refined, smooth and even as the 580s/600s.

As far as spending a gazillion dollars to make the 580's ($200 phones) sound sweet being "wrong", would it make you feel any better if the 580s/600's were selling for $700 like the Grado RS-1's? They are in the same league. Some make like Grados more, some may like Senns more, but they are in same league.

To me, the 580's/600s have the potential to sound like $10k speakers. Therefore, if you're buying a $10k speaker, would you play it off a panasonic DVD player? Probably not. You'd most likely spend some money to get quality components. So, there is no reason not to spend the money for quality components to drive the 580s/600s. Don't let the price of the phones stop you. These are great cans at a great price. I wish the rest of the audio industry would offer quality components at these kinds of prices.
post #11 of 20
Thread Starter 
bifcake,

I totally agree and I think my post is fairly clear that I think the 580's represent quite a bargain. I do think caution should be excercised when recommending them though. I've seen people recommend them to newbies looking for closed cans or that don't want to buy an amp. I'm not saying to not recommend them to these people but the 580's requirements should be stated clearly as well.

My speakers would actually retail for around $6000 US and yes I am using them with a Panasonic DVD Player and a modded Mission Cyrus I. To be honest while the sound is nothing near what I know they Swans are capable of producing it really doesn't sound that bad and I've heard the Swans with an awful lot of the SE amps that were on the market six years ago. I truly wish I had the cash to put into them but a decent amp and source worthy of the Swans would cost thousands whereas my headphone habit is more in the region of hundreds. (at least for now.)

In the end I hope that the headphone and the home system will meet in the middle somewhere. Maybe I'll find a good tube amp for the Swans with a decent headphone output and a decent source at a reasonable price and all will be good.
post #12 of 20
Quote:
Originally posted by wallijonn
Therefore baseline testing on "average" equipment serves as an indicator of the headphone's 'quality'.
No, quite the opposite in fact. The true "quality" of a headphones -- the best sound it can attain -- is only realized when you pair it with equipment that can truly show what it can do. Or, to put it another way, the true quality of a headphone is realized at the point when adding better equipment to it doesn't make it sound any better.

The Sony MDR-V6 are great headphones, but beyond a certain point that is relatively inexpensive, they don't get any better. The HD 580/600 are great headphones, and the better equipment you give them the better they get. I'm currently using a "Class A" SACD player and HeadRoom Max amp, and this setup still doesn't do them complete justice -- a higher-end CD player and a BlockHead makes them sound better still.

Your statement above is analogous to saying that the true "quality" of one of the best engines in the world is how it performs when put inside a Ford Taurus


Quote:
Instead of paying $400 to get a sweet sounding headpone (cans, cables and amp), I would much rather get a great sounding can (like A100Ti, CD3000, SR325, etc.) that I don't have to spend money on an endless amount of upgrading and can enjoy right out of the box.
Although it's true that the HD 580/600 require a nice amp and (in my opinion) a cable upgrade to shine, the myth is that they sound "bad" without them. They still sound VERY good; it's just that they get progressively better as the associated equipment gets better. Plus there's the fact that for under $300 you can get the HD 580 with Cardas cable upgrade. For another $200 you can get a very nice META42 or a Little; this combo, for around $500, will sound better than any $300-$500 headphone will sound without an amp.
post #13 of 20
I agree with Mac here. I believe the Senn HD580's to be one of the great values in headphone-dom today. It will stand against a variety of other class-act cans, at a variety of price points depending on the entire system assembled. For less than a "buck and a half" you get a world class headphone which can grow and improve with each upgrade to your system. There is almost no limit to how good a system these headphones can be matched with. For how many other headphones can you say that?

That being said, at this point I refuse to talk about any headphone without also qualifying it with talking about the amp used with it. Frankly elnero, you didn't even give the Senn's a chance. Your barely adequate source and lack of an amp did not even begin to do them justice. By the time you got your CMOY, I feel that your mind was already made up about the Senn's. So be it. Your loss.

I also am extremely sceptical of all the latest A-T hype. I heard the famed W2002's, and despite their physical beauty I wouldn't trade my 580's for them. I doubt the less expensive models are the audio nirvana that has recently been reported. For a while it was the Beyers, and I suspect it will be again once the long awaited 880's finally come out. If you all would rather just keep "whipping your cans out and measuring" every time a new model comes out so be it. I'd rather keep it in my pants and listen to the music.

post #14 of 20
Quote:
Originally posted by elnero
bifcake,

In the end I hope that the headphone and the home system will meet in the middle somewhere. Maybe I'll find a good tube amp for the Swans with a decent headphone output and a decent source at a reasonable price and all will be good.

I got just the thing for you: Look into Cary 300SEI integrated amp. It's only 20wpc, but if your speakers are efficient enough, that should suffice. However, it's got a GREAT headphone output stage. The 580s come alive through that bad boy. It sounds better than blockhead. It retails new for $4500, but I've seen it used for as little as $1500.

I also agree with Jpelg. I tried the AT phones and I wasn't impressed in the least bit. The 580's (or 600's. I use the two interchangeably) are by FAR the best bang for the buck. Nothing even closely touches them even when you factor in cable upgrades.
post #15 of 20
Thread Starter 
MacDEF,

I know it's hard for some people here to fathom that some people can't or won't spend the type of money required to make the 580's really shine. The point of my posting this thread was to give people an idea of how well the 580's work with lower end equipment. I thought I made it quite clear that I thought they were a decent headphone that would only get better with upgrades. That said I think a lot of people come here looking for advice on a decent quality headphone and have no intention of putting the kind of money into it that would be required to really make the 580’s shine. In that case I think there may be better headphones in the price range for their purposes.

It’s funny, I’ve been seeing all these people jump on Lou for his enthusiastic comments of his headphones. People say how irresponsible it is of him. Well I personally think it is far more irresponsible for people to recommend the 580’s to every newbie that comes around regardless of their situation. I’ve seen them recommended to people asking for closed cans that don’t need an amp. No real explanation of what the 580’s are and require, just that they are the best darn thing since sliced bread. This serves no purpose other than to confuse the person. If they actually went out and purchased the 580 would they be happy with it? Probably not, because it didn’t meet their requirements.

jpelg,

Quote:
Frankly elnero, you didn't even give the Senn's a chance. Your barely adequate source and lack of an amp did not even begin to do them justice. By the time you got your CMOY, I feel that your mind was already made up about the Senn's. So be it. Your loss.
That’s simply not true. I really wanted to like the 580’s. My choice to sell them was base solely on a couple of characteristics I personally didn’t like. I don’t have a lot of resources to spend on audio equipment so it would have served me much better if I had been able to keep them. If I could have lived with them until I upgraded I would have. As it was I had to make a judgement call that there was probably a headphone better suited to my needs now and in the future. To think that there isn’t anything better out there is simply arrogant and/or misinformed. The world of headphones is far more limited than speakers but there are still other equally valid choices other than Sennheiser. I may hear a 580/600 combo in the future that floors me, so be it and in fact I expect it but it doesn’t mean I have to own it. My friends Martin Logan, Classe, Enlightened Audio setup impresses me every time I hear it but I wouldn’t be able to live with it myself.

Now just because you heard and didn’t like the W2002 does not mean they are a bad headphone, it just means they weren’t to your taste. I would say there are plenty of people here that would say they blow your 580’s out of the water but they don’t pounce on you for expressing your opinion.

Bifcake,

I’m very familiar with the 300SEI. It was one of the reference amps we used at Swan’s so I’ve heard it many, many times with my speakers and before that Cary was one of the lines we sold at the high end shop I worked at. While it would be nice to have one at this point it’s highly unattainable for me.
As a side note, you may not be familiar with Swans as they were before Hi-Vi Research bought the name. During they last few years of their existence on PEI they were designed with SE tube amps in mind. At the time there were very few speakers that worked well with SE amps and the whole SE movement was generally looked down upon by the greater audiophile community. I drifted away from high end audio for a few years and I find it amusing now when I’ve come back to it to see SE amps highly regarded and sought after.

edit: I feel as if I'm repeating some stuff, wait, I am. DOH!
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